I couldn’t shake the thought from my head: “This is why I’m here.”
Surrounding me was a mass of humans dressed in red. They chatted, eventually shouted, sang, waved flags—and I found myself just one fresh, small dot in a collage of varying jerseys dating back years to as recent as bought 20 minutes ago. The atmosphere and culture were why I was there. Not specifically there – in the main stand of Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield Stadium – but why I was there in the city, and in the country. In these moments it was all worth it.
At the close of my second week of a semester abroad in London, England, I already planned to get away. The two weeks have been full of ups and downs and lots of adjustment to what feels like a whole new world. At times I’ve asked myself what I’m doing here, why I bothered to dive into something so unknown and uncomfortable to me. I still don’t have full answers to those questions, but I found a piece of that reasoning this past weekend.
Part of this journey is about being closer to my heritage. Half of my family is from Liverpool, a maritime city to the northwest of England. I had looked forward to visiting my family for a long time, and two weeks in I was already dying to experience anything remotely familiar. I traveled to Liverpool to stay at the house my dad grew up in. I spent quality time with my family (my grandmother, aunts, uncle and cousins), had some brilliant home-cooked breakfasts and got to see my childhood soccer team play at their legendary home stadium for only the third time in my life.
I planned on seeing Liverpool play as often as I could while in England these four months, but to seize the opportunity and get to go on my second week was an amazing privilege. My seat was immaculate, the closest I’ve ever been to the field before, and my longtime idols were on the field right in front of me within shouting distance. It felt like a dream.
Liverpool’s “Reds” are in the middle of a historic season. More than halfway through it, they are still yet to lose and have only drawn once. They have broken countless records, a new one coming every few weeks or so, and are resilient in their performances on the pitch. On top of that, they haven’t won the league since the 1989-1990 season; 2020 marks 30 years! The culmination and feeling of all these realities is tangible in the Anfield air. The anticipation resides in the hearts and minds of every Liverpool fan. There is a sort of inevitability and high statistical probability of their victory at the end of the season, but still a sense of caution in the air. After so long without winning the trophy, no one will jump to celebrations early. The players and the club have come so far and are so close to meeting their goal; the collective feeling of pride and impending success echoes around the ground.
The first half was a tense one; Southampton Football Club, a team that has shown a consistent upward trend in quality since the start of December, gave Liverpool no leeway. They fought hard, matched the Reds with intensity and athleticism, and even made the professional demeanor they typically show falter at some points, causing a number of close calls. At the half’s conclusion, it was still 0-0, and it looked like it would be a similar 45 minutes in the second half.
Instead, the Reds came out of halftime swinging. It appeared as though they were reminded to just kick it into second gear, made a decision to raise their level even higher and played Southampton out of the park. Their combination and execution were near perfect, including a goal that many thought could have been the goal of the season but was ruled offside at the last minute. Liverpool put four goals past the Southampton keeper, and quite frankly could have had six or seven had they taken all their chances.
I (and most of the crowd, I assume) had expected a close affair after seeing such a stalemate in the first half. I expected more of the same fight in the second half, but the rise in the level of play from Liverpool was a testament to the resilience and cold-blooded professionalism they have demonstrated all season. As manager Jurgen Klopp labels his players, “mentality giants,” it was evident on Saturday that the notion is true. They have one goal – to win – and they have the ability to persevere and rise above their opponent on any given day. It was a joy to witness, and it is still surreal for me to think that I had the chance to see them play in person this season.
This season will go down in history—and being in England has allowed me the right to say I witnessed this history take place firsthand. For the last few months, fans have chanted, “We’re top of the league,” at the conclusion of each Liverpool game. Saturday was the first time this season that the crowd switched the chant to, “We’re going to win the league,” and I was there for the whole thing. To take it all in, to be a part of Liverpool’s history and to sing along with them.